Revealing the Connection Between Agility and Emotional Intelligence


Revealing the Connection Between Agility and Emotional Intelligence

The more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous our working environments become, the more critical a truly agile workforce is to success. Yet, staying agile demands that people develop and use their emotional intelligence (EQ)—a level of sophistication that has never been demanded before.

A common approach to emotional intelligence training and development is through EQ appraisals—most of which offer an individual a measure of their emotional intelligence at that moment in time. But it’s one thing to have insight into your emotional intelligence; it’s another to use that information to grow and enhance your impact at work. And it’s still another to scale it across the enterprise to drive organizational performance. The question becomes: How do organizations develop the emotional intelligence necessary to support what they need most: a thriving agile culture?

This eBook explores the connection between agility and emotional intelligence, the perceived impact it has on individual and organizational performance, and a proven methodology for development at scale: Everything DiSC® Agile EQ™

The Rise of the Agile Organization

“Agility” is more than a buzzword in the workplace today; it’s a requirement. Organizations have to be ready for challenges they couldn’t have imagined five years ago. And every smart company you can think of is undergoing some kind of agile transformation.

Why are organizations eager to become more agile, flexible, and resilient? Because the marketplace is being constantly reshaped by powerful macro forces: sweeping globalization, groundbreaking technology, unprecedented workforce diversity, and relentless competition. And then there are the real human and economic game changers such as COVID-19, utterly beyond our powers to predict much less control. Today, companies need to be primed for VUCA— volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Thriving in the modern world of work demands it.

Maybe you’ve helped your organization become more agile by flattening the hierarchy, introducing agile project management, or emphasizing flexibility and teamwork in hiring. But consider the big picture. Do your people have the tools they need to cope with whatever comes next, logistically and emotionally? As you build your agile workplace, do you know what you’re asking of employees?

Imagine these scenarios–entirely plausible today

  1. A new competitor armed with disruptive technology is about to launch a product that could change everything. You need Marketing, Technology, and Product Development to hunker down and respond. But Marketing’s tied up planning a conference, Tech’s mired in scheduled software updates, and Product Dev just lost a key leader. Can they shift gears when it counts?
  2. A major hurricane has knocked one of your main suppliers offline, and you can’t afford to stop production. You’ve got to find a reliable replacement—now. Can the team tackle the arrangements without unintended consequences?
  3. Your company has decided to expand to international markets. How can you prepare the staff to navigate the myriad of new regulations, tariffs, and cultural norms? And how can you get them to see 3 this as progress, as more exciting than onerous?

And even if these exact hypotheticals don’t come to pass, your organization will almost certainly face some type of radical disruption in the not-too-distant future. Probably nobody included a global pandemic in their 2020 plans. With such challenges in mind, many companies striving to become more nimble are focused on making their processes more agile. And that’s a start. But it’s not enough. You can’t be an agile organization without agile workers, without people who are resilient, proactive, collaborative. You need clear communicators, keen listeners, and lifelong learners. You need people who can not only withstand chaos but somehow even embrace it.

Agility may be the key 21st-century competency. In a 2020 Wiley survey of 2,500 professionals, 95 percent of managers, directors, and executives said that agility—the ability to adapt quickly and easily—is more important to their organization’s success now than it was five years ago. And 90 percent of respondents, from individual contributors to the C-suite, said agility is more important to their individual success than it was five years ago; increasingly, employers require it.

The Psychology of the Agile Worker

So what can we expect from workers who’ve developed their agility? More than others, agile workers keep an eye out for the next competitor, the next disruptor. At all levels, they employ their personal authority to make decisions and manage everyday changes. They strive to adapt to new situations, even when it’s uncomfortable. And, given that they may have coworkers in five generations across a wide cultural spectrum, they can connect with people very different from them—and quickly get down to business.

Because of all the changing dynamics and demographics, the modern workplace can be a jumble of norms and expectations. But agile workers demonstrate core social and emotional strengths that make teamwork and problemsolving possible: active listening, self-reflection, empathy, objectivity, assertiveness.

In other words, the elements of emotional intelligence—another hot topic today—are the building blocks of agility. And leaders clearly see the connection between the two. In Wiley’s Agile Organization survey, 97 percent of supervisors, managers, directors, and executives said that emotional intelligence is crucial to an agile workforce.

But how does emotional intelligence support agility? Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to read the emotional and interpersonal needs of a situation and respond appropriately; agility is the ability to do that even if it’s difficult. Most everyone can adapt to some situations, but there are others outside their comfort zone. People who find it easy to remain calm when big plans change, for example, may find it almost impossible to push back appropriately when the changes are ill-conceived. If they can learn to stretch, to rise to those less comfortable challenges, they’ll have more moves—which makes them more valuable to the organization, more marketable themselves, and more comfortable in new circumstances.

Emotional intelligence not only yields better outcomes, it also reduces wear and tear on the staff. If an employee’s default is confidence, for example, they might be frustrated when a situation calls for vulnerability. But if they can learn to assume the new mindset, they’re less likely to be stressed out—and immobilized—by a new boss, a new project, or a new work environment. And if they can move easily between the two mindsets, they’re more versatile and probably happier.

So how do emotional intelligence and agility show up in the workplace? Consider a day in the life of an employee perfectly suited to today’s tumultuous workplace.

We’ll call her Alicia.

  • Alicia encounters the CEO on the elevator and seizes the moment, charming him with a quick recap of her latest inventive idea and urging him to take a look at the email she sent. “She’s dynamic,” he thinks, impressed.
  • Alicia stops by the marketing team on her way to get coffee. She chats with several folks about their projects, shares a laugh, and invites one to lunch to pick her brain, bolstering several relationships.
  • One of her teammates is discouraged as he’s preparing an acquisition proposal. She takes him aside, listens intently to the factors he’s weighing, paraphrases his concerns, validates his thought process, and raises questions for him to consider. He feels better and digs in again.
  • It’s the big monthly budget meeting, and Alicia is disappointed to learn the new hire she’d hoped for is not being funded. But she puts aside her frustration and considers the benefits of another team’s expansion. It could really boost revenue. The budget director thinks, wow, she’s a team player.
  • Her least favorite colleague stops by to ask for a big batch of data while Alicia’s immersed in writing an urgent report. “I’ll wait,” the colleague says. Alicia resists the urge to roll her eyes, smiles, and promises to deliver the numbers the next morning. Her cubicle neighbor admires her composure.
  • A client calls, full of enthusiasm for a new idea he wants incorporated into the plan Alicia is creating. Alicia listens and acknowledges his passion but then gently points out the ways the new idea would delay the plan. “Okay,” the client concedes with a laugh. “Thanks for protecting me from myself.”
  • Alicia presents a new, more efficient process to her immediate team. As she feared, they don’t want to change how they do things. She reminds them of the problems caused by the current process, making a convincing case for change. Reluctantly, they admit she’s right.
  • Her boss calls her in and tells her she needs to spend this weekend working on the presentation for the corporate office next week. “I’m sorry, but that won’t work,” Alicia tells her firmly. “I can get it done early next week, and it will be everything you need it to be.”

Now, nothing Alicia does in this slice of her life is an explosive game-changer. But all the wise little moves she makes, pirouetting gracefully between selfassurance, gregariousness, empathy, and objectivity, add up to the sort of adaptability organizations need today. If, like Alicia, an employee can pivot from one soft skill to another, from one situation to another, they’re likely to be more prepared when the inevitable big changes come. They’re prepared to help ward off a new competitor, find a new supplier, solidify a new customer base. They can handle major disruption— and still have energy for the family after work.

Alicia is a hypothetical ideal, of course. Few of us are that constructive and resilient on an average day. But everyone is competent in at least a couple of dimensions of emotional intelligence. And EQ experts maintain that everyone—everyone―can grow their competency, can develop the social and emotional skills crucial to an agile workplace.

The Value of EQ in the Workplace

There’s a growing recognition of the value of emotional intelligence in the workplace. In Wiley’s survey, 95 percent of respondents said EQ is at least as important at work as IQ—if not more so. Eightysix percent of managers, directors, and executives said EQ is a bigger factor in organizational success than it was five years ago. Managers indicated they spend significantly more time on interpersonal issues, where higher EQ would be helpful, than on either the quality or quantity of work their employees do.

EQ hits the bottom line, yes, and it also shapes the employee experience and organizational culture. And when the job market’s tight, those things especially matter. Eighty percent of those surveyed have worked on a team where low EQ hurt productivity; an equal percentage said they’ve seen low EQ create a toxic culture. More than 40 percent have actually quit a job after working with people with a low EQ.

People recognize the importance of EQ, but there’s a gap between theory and practice in many organizations. Almost 95 percent of survey respondents said that they themselves are skilled at reading the emotional needs of a situation and adapting their approach, but only 71 percent said their coworkers know how to do that. Hmmm. And while 98 percent of supervisors, managers, directors, and executives said it would be worthwhile for their teams to develop their EQ, only 72 percent said they know how to do that.

How do we close the EQ theory-practice gap? There’s a vibrant industry around the training of emotional intelligence. And most of the training solutions revolve around an EQ appraisal, which offers an individual a measure of their emotional intelligence at a moment in time. But it’s one thing to have insight into your emotional intelligence; it’s another to use that information to grow and enhance your impact at work. And it’s still another to scale it across the enterprise to drive organizational performance. How can organizations develop the emotional intelligence necessary to support what they need most today—a thriving agile culture?

A Solution Within Reach

What’s the best way to nurture EQ at work and grow agility in an effective, scalable way? Wiley’s new Everything DiSC® Agile EQ™ program is one answer. It’s an assessment and group training program grounded in the proven Everything DiSC® assessment, which measures two central aspects of personality: pace and skepticism. On top of that, Agile EQ™ measures each employee’s comfort with eight EQ mindsets.

Each participant in the program takes an assessment and receives a 26-page profile based on their results. The profile, combined with group training by a skilled facilitator, provides each participant with a step-bystep guide, a sort of roadmap, to improving their EQ. Say a participant excels at the empathy mindset and supportive, one-on-on conversations but resists connecting with strangers at sales events. The profile outlines beginning, intermediate, and advanced steps they can take to make the outgoing mindset more comfortable. Or say a participant is naturally resolute, great at withstanding doubts and criticism, but struggles to compromise with others. The profile helps them see what that weakness is costing them and how chipping away at it could open up new opportunities. The profile acknowledges the participant’s existing strengths, making it easier to take action.

Ultimately, the goal of Agile EQ is to empower employees—from individual contributors to executives— to move comfortably between the eight mindsets, to become more agile. Nobody does it effortlessly, of course, but Everything DiSC’s new program has an optimistic foundation, clearly showing each employee the EQ strengths they’re starting from. From there, the emphasis is on their development. Boosting EQ and becoming more agile is like building a muscle, and the profile outlines the exercises that will lead to growth for each individual.

It’s this developmental emphasis that distinguishes Agile EQ from other emotional intelligence approaches. Other programs provide participants with a numerical score, a diagnostic snapshot, but what can be done to improve that score is often unclear. Agile EQ participants not only know their EQ strengths, but also where they can improve, why it matters that they improve, and precisely what steps they can take to improve. The program is practical and systematic, in a world that’s often murky and ambiguous.

The program is powerful not only because it’s pragmatic, but also because it’s highly personalized. The profile shows a participant’s likely EQ strengths, based on their DiSC® style, but it goes further—with “effort meters” that show precisely how challenging each mindset is for that person. After reading the profile, the participant sees clearly the shape and scope of their comfort zone. Two people may share a DiSC style—even the exact location on the DiSC circumplex— but they may have very different effort meters, based on their EQ. Being humble and receptive may be easy for one and an awkward ordeal for the other.

Agile EQ is built around a half-day group training that creates a shared understanding of EQ among colleagues and shows each individual how to maximize their strengths. The learning experience was designed to be delivered in a classroom but can be readily adapted to a virtual platform and delivered to people working remotely. Wiley has been fortunate to partner with a network of passionate consultants, trainers, and coaches who are trained to facilitate this program, bringing to life the principles presented in the profile. This group of experts is empowered to customize the program to each organization they work with—so they address the unique strategic needs of each culture. Everything DiSC Authorized Partners meet each organization and each person where they are and help them see where they can go. Group training can be a powerful catalyst for professional growth, especially when the competencies being explored are interpersonal.

We all have weaknesses that limit our organizations and limit our careers. Agile EQ’s personalized profile, invigorating learning experience, and in-depth action planning help people see their limits—and how to stretch past and expand them. It may never feel completely natural to be very outgoing or composed or self-assured, if that’s not how you’re built. But Agile EQ shows how to venture into those mindsets, whenever the situation demands it.

We live in challenging times, with unprecedented threats to public health, climate, and the market. Now more than ever, professionals need to keep their eyes glued to the horizon. Today’s workforce may be perfectly suited to today’s challenges. But what about next year’s? What if the competitor around the corner suddenly shows up on your doorstep? What if the next pandemic appears before you’ve recovered from the last one? Being competitive today means developing your employees to adapt to each new challenge in real time. Everything DiSC® Agile EQ™ helps organizations and people adapt to the future—whatever it brings—so that when it arrives, they’re ready.

Everything DiSC® Agile EQ™ develops the emotional intelligence necessary to support a thriving agile culture.

This training program combines the personalized insights of DiSC® with active emotional intelligence development to help each participant read the emotional and interpersonal needs of a situation and respond accordingly. Participants will discover their EQ strengths, recognize their EQ opportunities, and learn to stretch outside their comfort zone, empowering them to meet the demands of any situation. The result is an emotionally intelligent workforce that can effectively adapt to the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Mike Todd

Mike Todd

Learning Unlimited Corporation (LUC) ambassador; a battle-tested 31-year enterprise. LUC has experience in every industry worldwide with leaders at all levels. LUC exists to help people and organizations LEARN. Developing leaders, building cohesive teams, and advancing healthy cultures through consulting, training, and strengths coaching is our joy, our privilege, and our craft.

Leave a Comment

Ready to experience a breakthrough in your organization's performance?

Take our test drive today and see how we can help take your organization to the next level. Start your journey to organizational excellence now.